Alfred Gordon Clark
Life and work
Gordon Clark was born in Mickleham, Surrey, the third son of Henry Herbert Gordon Clark of Mickleham Hall, a merchant in the wine and spirit trade, Matthew Clark & Sons being the family firm. The socialist politician Susan Lawrence was his aunt. He was educated at St Aubyn's, Rottingdean and Rugby. He read History at New College, Oxford (where he heard William Archibald Spooner say in a sermon that 'now we see through a dark glassly') and graduated with a First. He then studied law and was called to the Bar at Middle Temple in 1924.
Gordon Clark's pseudonym was a mixture of Hare Court, where he worked in the chambers of Roland Oliver, and Cyril Mansions, Battersea, where he lived after marrying Mary Barbara Lawrence (see Lawrence baronets, Ealing Park) in 1933. They had one son, Charles Philip Gordon Clark (clergyman, later dry stone waller), and two daughters, Alexandra Mary Gordon Clark (Lady Wedgwood FSA, architectural historian, see Wedgwood baronets) and Cecilia Mary Gordon Clark (Cecilia Snell, musician, who married Roderick Snell).
As a young man and during the early days of the Second World War, Gordon Clark toured as a judge's marshal, an experience he used in Tragedy at Law. Between 1942 and 1945 he worked at the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions. At the beginning of the war he served a short time at the Ministry of Economic Warfare, and the wartime civil service with many temporary members appears in With a Bare Bodkin. In 1950 he was appointed county court judge in Surrey. His best-known novel is Tragedy at Law, in which he drew on his legal expertise and in which he introduced Francis Pettigrew, a not very successful barrister who in this and four other novels just happens to elucidate aspects of the crime. His professional detective (they appeared together in three novels, and only one has neither of them present) was a large and realistic police officer, Inspector Mallett, with a vast appetite.
Tragedy at Law has never been out of print, and Marcel Berlins described it in 1999 as "still among the best whodunnits set in the legal world." P. D. James went further and wrote that it "is generally acknowledged to be the best detective story set in that fascinating world." It appeared at no. 85 in The Top 100 Crime Novels of All Time. Of his other full-length novels, Suicide Excepted shows a man committing an almost perfect murder, only to find that a quirk of the insurance laws deprives him of the reward.
Among the more outstanding of "Hare's" literary contributions are his short stories, mostly written for the London Evening Standard. The Story of Hermione, in which the eponymous character grows rich from the all too convenient deaths of several relatives, has been called one of the most chilling short stories ever written; Sister Bessie describes vividly the agonies of a blackmail victim and the desperate crimes he commits in the hope of freeing himself from his tormentor. Miss Burnside's Dilemma describes the predicament of a person who uncovers a piece of unscrupulous, but entirely legal chicanery by someone she had previously admired.
- Tenant for Death (1937)
- Death Is No Sportsman (1938)
- Suicide Excepted (1939)
- Tragedy at Law (1942)
- With a Bare Bodkin (1946)
- The Magic Bottle, a children's book (1946)
- When the Wind Blows (US title The Wind Blows Death, 1949)
- An English Murder (1951)
- That Yew Tree's Shade (US title Death Walks the Woods, 1954)
- The House of Warbeck, a play (1955)
- He Should Have Died Hereafter (US title and also title of some UK reprints Untimely Death, 1958)
- Best Detective Stories of Cyril Hare (US title Death among Friends, 1959, edited by Michael Gilbert)
- ‘GORDON CLARK, His Honour Judge Alfred Alexander’, Who Was Who, A & C Black, an imprint of Bloomsbury Publishing plc, 1920–2008; online edn, Oxford University Press, Dec 2012 ; online edn, Nov 2012 accessed 26 May 2013
- His Honour A. A. Gordon Clark (Obituaries) The Times Tuesday, Aug 26, 1958; pg. 10; Issue 54239; col E
- "Detection and the Law: An Appreciation of Cyril Hare".
- The Guardian, Nov. 1, 1999
- article The Judge's Progress, c. 2005